A Surprising Way to Stop Tantrums

A Surprising Way to Stop Tantrums

This month, Anton has been really fussy. He’s three, so I’m sure some of that comes with the age, but it was making us all a little crazy. I wondered what might help: Should I give him time outs? Does he need more sleep? Should he eat less sugar? Is he nervous about school? Then I remembered a reader’s comment I read years ago…

Joy left a comment on this post:

The most life-changing book I read was Playful Parenting. The main idea was that you need to make time regularly to sit on the floor and PLAY with your children. Doing other stuff with them is great, but doesn’t count as “floor time.” Temper tantrums went from nearly every day to almost never when I started doing twenty minutes of floor time most days when my son was two or three. Now he’s six, and my daughter is three.

So, I took her advice. Almost every morning for the past two weeks, I’ve been playing on the floor for twenty minutes with Anton. Just the two of us. We’ll usually build a train track all around the room (“to China!” he says, inspired by Knuffle Bunny). I’ll make sure to keep my mind present — if it starts to wander (to work, home stuff, whatever), I bring it back to the moment. I’ll build a bridge, comment on the tracks Anton chooses, or even just watch him and the way he breathes really slowly when he concentrates.

Honestly, it’s REMARKABLE what a difference it has made, even on the very first day. He’s so much more relaxed and less wild — maybe because he isn’t trying to compete for attention; he knows he has it.

Do your kids go through these tantrum phases, too? Holy smokes, it can test one’s patience! How have you helped curb them?

P.S. Trying out slow parenting, and 20 surprising parenting tips.

(Photo by Nicki Sebastian for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Brittany Sobering says...

    Such a good reminder, especially now while we’re all home together ALL THE TIME! I also got so much out of Playful Parenting and have recommended it to others. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Andrea says...

    My daughter is almost 3 and I’m so glad you linked back to this post. I’m going to make an effort to try this int the mornings.

  3. Maya says...

    When I had a temper tantrum my mom sat me in front of a mirror and told me if I wanted to have tantrum then I could sit in front of the mirror and see how silty I look. Never had a tantrum after that. Lol.

  4. Ximena says...

    About to become a new mom and I feel like there is SO MUCH I don’t know! I love posts like this… will keep this idea in mind as my baby grows :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      congratulations, ximena! sending you so much love as you bring your baby into the world xoxoxo

  5. Thanks, I’m definitely going to give this a try. I also love The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali. I would imagine its similar to slow parenting. Thanks x

  6. This might be just what I have been looking for…. It seems like intentional floor time should be a no brainer!! And I think that I do it, but actually, my mind totally wanders while I’m “playing” and I get so easily distracted, and my kids notice. Going to try this every single day for the week and see what happens! :) I’m also going to snag that book, Playful Parenting!

  7. michelle says...

    I saw this a few weeks back when it was first posted, but I just made a mental note to really read this when I have time. My 2 year old has been acting up, especially in the mornings before going to pre-school. I recently started grad school at 40, so things have been topsy-turvy for him and I feel like I need to be 15 years younger to keep up. This post is a good reminder for me to take some time out despite the stresses of work, school, the phone and computers to spend some quality time with the one that matters the most. Thank you!

    • Sandhya says...

      This is a very late reply to this comment, which I just read as I was looking at the post on tantrums. As the 45-year-old mother of a four-year-old, I definitely sympathize with the feeling that being younger would help us keep up. I find exercise really, really, really helps — both at a very basic level (i.e., strength training, believe it or not, helps me toss my tall and heavy child around), and a higher level of addressing stress and promoting higher energy levels. I was pretty sedentary at 30 so I actually feel like I’m in better shape now (I know that’s a rationalization ;)). I know you must be incredibly short on time given your work/school schedule, but exercise is such a valuable investment — so if you can swing it, I definitely encourage it!!

  8. Thank you for this much needed advice of a mommy to a three year old boy. So simple. Can’t wait to try it!

  9. Erin says...

    I am a psychology trainee and your tip just reminded me of an intervention we use for children with defiant or tantrum behaviors in the clinic– “special time.” You can read a little bit about it here: The idea is that generally, parents direct most of their attention to the things that their kids are doing wrong– just because that is what is most disruptive! By providing them with positive reinforcement for positive behavior, they are less likely to resort to tantrums and the like. Additionally, it is reinforcing for the parent to spend time with their child in a way that isn’t stressful, or filled with yelling! Even if a child doesn’t have clinically significant levels of tantrum-ing and is just having developmentally-appropriate tantrums (as it sounds like Anton does), the tip works like a charm. Anyway, I enjoyed this– I always love when people come up with tips that mirror what we do as psychologists on their own!

  10. I totally agree with this. Seating down and share one on one with kids is major. I am not great at it all the time, but it is really good for their behaviors.

  11. Louise says...

    My children are 13 and 10 years old now but your piece made me remember something I read when they were smaller and used to act out from time to time. It was that if you only spend 10 minutes quality, one-on-one time with each child there would be a marked improvement in their behaviour. It always worked! Like you say, Joanna, it’s as if they were seeking attention and that short time spent with them, and them alone, gave them the reassurance they needed to realise I was there and present for them when they needed me.

  12. Kateryna says...

    RIE is our lifesaver for tantrums. It is a huge life changer for us. No more power struggles, no yelling, no timeouts. As Magda Gerber once said:” … timeout? Timeout of what? Life?…”
    I found this amazing RIE blog that Janet is writting.
    And i also read her two books, just mind blowing how easier life can be. Her book “No bad kids” is my go to “bible” for anything disciple. Hope it helps.

  13. Shawna says...

    What a great reminder. Thank you!

  14. I have twin 5-year-old girls so they’re mostly through the tantrum stage, however a terrible tantrum will erupt every now and then. It’s even worse when they feed off each other and they become 2 magnified tantrums. Although finding the time can be a big challenge at times, I do make it a point to spend one-on-one time with each of them individually and together. The one-on-one time is especially important for twins since they are always sharing everything- including mommy. One of the biggest challenges was when they both needed alone time with mommy at the same time.

    When they were infants and started to crawl, jungle-gym mommy became their favorite time of day. I would just lay on the floor and they would climb and crawl all over me like I was a jungle-gym. So much fun for all of us.

    XOXO, Amy @ Jeans and a Tea